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Botany books

June 16, 2011

Have you been watching the BBC4 series Botany: A Blooming History? I have been loving it. It’s such a breath of fresh air and at last some intelligent and interesting TV gardening fodder – about bloomin’ time. Timothy Walker has done a good job of presenting it too. Watching the programme is really making me miss studying and my early horticultural days at college when my learning curve was steep to say the least. When everything was new, shiny and fascinating. It all still is fascinating of course, but sometimes I need to stop and reflect and remember.

It’s been several years now since I have done any serious studying. I am sad to say I have probably forgotten many of the finer points I had once learnt about botany. I don’t know about you but my brain can be a real sieve. Or rather, so full of rubbish that anything that isn’t used on a regular basis gets buried deeper and deeper. Stuff that gets taken for granted as you plant this, pot that or weed there. Minutes snatched in your own garden are always scant enough, finding time to botanise even rarer. So really, I need to re-learn or at least re-cap every now and then. The knowledge is there somewhere, it just needs bringing out and dusting off. Plus there is always more to learn. Always. Lucky then for books to help with jogging my memory and to continue my learning (if you follow my blog you probably know how much I love books – especially reference books). Here are a few of mine getting an airing:

The books (from top down) are:

  • Oxford Dictionary of Plant Sciences  Essential for deciphering all those gobbledy-gook terms, especially if you are new to Botany. Easy to use. Does what it says on the tin.
  • Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon  As with most my gardening books I was introduced to this as a hort student. It is a fab introduction to botany and a must read for any interested gardener. I don’t think you don’t need any previous botanical knowledge to enjoy the book. Understanding all these basics of how plants grow and reproduce helps to make sense of what plants need to survive and therefore how to cultivate them, tackle problems, pests and all manner of gardening issues. It’s concise, clearly written and easy to read – not too dry as you might expect a science book to be.
  • Mabberley’s Plant Book  Not cheap but a bit of an essential botanical reference bible. It’s written in condensed form and can be tricky to get your head round at first. I am still finding my way around it but it has an unbelievable amount of information crammed into this brilliant ‘portable dictionary’. It will give you a plant’s taxonomic relationships, what family a genus is in, how many species are in a particular genus, botanical identification, how plants are used, distribution, ecology, common names – it goes on and on.
  • Reader’s Digest Encyclopaedia of Garden Plants and Flowers  This is probably my first and oldest plant reference book, which used to belong to my grandpa. It was published in the 70s and I think it’s out of print now, although you can probably find it second hand from somewhere. Being several decades old it does mean that some of the classification and names may be out of date but I still love it. The illustrated plant encyclopaedia section is simply listed in alphabetical plant order and the plant entries are easy to follow and packed with information on common names, geographical spread, detailed botanical descriptions and notes on cultivation, propagation, pruning, pests and diseases. At the back there are sections on: plants for special purposes, methods of propagation, principles of pruning and a glossary of botanical and horticultural terms. What a shame they don’t print it anymore.

If you’re hungry for more books then here are some others I’d recommend, again from my studies. These beautiful books have all been languishing on my wish list to be added to my ever-growing collection:

If you have any botany books – taxonomic, science or history – you would recommend I’d love to hear of them.

Finally, if you are keen to attend a talk by Timothy Walker himself then keep your eyes peeled on the Bath Gardening School website who hope to have a course with him soon!

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